In the year 257, the Roman Emperor Valerian ordered that all Christians as well as Bishops, priests, deacons, and Pope Sixtus II, were to be apprehended and put to death. One year after this decree was issued, Pope Saint Sixtus was taken into custody by Roman soldiers and martyred. Four days later, the Pope’s good friend, Saint Lawrence, would follow him into martyrdom. According to tradition and the writings of Saint Ambrose and Prudentius, Saint Lawrence said to Sixtus, “Father, where are you going without your deacon? The Pope said in reply, “I do not leave you, my son. You shall follow me in three days.”
As tradition tells us, a Roman prefect demanded that Saint Lawrence bring the treasures of the Church to him immediately. For three days, Saint Lawrence quickly did what he was told to do. He went throughout the entire city seeking the followers of Christ. The actual gold and silver that the prefect wanted was sold and distributed throughout the Church. On the third day, he reported back to the prefect with a countless number of Christian followers. At seeing all the people gathered before him, the Roman prefect became enraged and asked Lawrence where was the “treasure” of the Church. In a confident voice, Lawrence replied, “What are you displeased at? These are the treasure of the Church.”
After hearing this reply, his anger increased even more so and he ordered that Lawrence be taken into custody. The prefect ordered that a large gridiron be built and that hot coals were placed under it in order to slowly cook the deacon to death. Lawrence was stripped of his clothes and tied to the gridiron that slowly burnt his flesh. He remained on the gridiron for a long time suffering in great pain. With a smile of pure joy, he looked at the judge and said, “Let my body be turned; one side is broiled enough.” Once the executioner turned him over, Lawrence said, “It is cooked enough, you may eat.” After praying for the city of Rome and all the faithful of the Church one last night, Saint Lawrence gave up his spirit and died. Since the fourth century, Saint Lawrence has been celebrated as one of the most venerated martyrs of the Church.
After reading through the martyrdom of Saint Lawrence, here are 5 things we can learn from his life and death…
- Always speak the Truth of Jesus Christ and spread His Gospel message to those we encounter. The Gospel message is to be evangelized to all – from faithful Christians to unbelievers. As the missionaries, we are not to impose the views of the Church, only propose them to the world.
- We must always strive for holiness. From the moment we are baptized, we are called to live a life of universal holiness. As saints militant here on Earth, we must be joyful Christians. There is no room for grumpy Christians. As St. Teresa of Avila said, “A sad saint is not a saint at all.”
- Always stand against those who seek to destroy us and persecute us for our beliefs in Jesus Christ and His Church. With great confidence and fortitude, we can overcome the challenges that stand before us. Throughout the world, many of us are being faced with a threat against our religious freedom. We must stand against such tyranny and battle for our freedoms.
- As Christians, we are called to be witnesses to the world. The term, martyr, comes from the Greek term meaning witness. Many of us will never endure red martyrdom (death), but we will, and have already begun to endure white martyrdom (social persecution). As we stand against the depravity of this modern culture, many of us will endure social persecution.
- All suffering leads to Jesus Christ on the cross. Whether our suffering is physical, mental, or spiritual, it can unite us closer to Our Lord who endured great suffering during his Passion. All suffering will eventually lead to glory and resurrection. In his Apostolic Letter, Salvific Doloris, Blessed John Paul II says, “Suffering is also an invitation to manifest the moral greatness of man, his spiritual maturity. Proof of this has been given, down through the generations, by the martyrs and confessors of Christ, faithful to the words: “And do not fear those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul.”
Let us pray: O Lord, you gave us the great Deacon and Martyr of the Church, St. Lawrence, who passionately served you and your Vicar, St. Sixtus II. Help us to be obedient to Pope Francis in all avenues of the Church. Give us the strength and courage me need to endure social persecution in this modern age. Amen.